September 5, 2019 / 11:50 AM / 3 months ago

Croatian teachers threaten strike over pay, adding pressure on government

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Around 1,500 Croatian teachers marched through Zagreb on Thursday as their unions threatened to strike for higher pay, further pressuring a government already dealing with planned strikes by transport and healthcare staff.

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw/File Photo

Teaching staff are seeking average rises of around 6%, say union organisers, who met Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic after the protesters gathered in front of the government building.

Branimir Mihalinec, the leader of the union of high school teachers, said another meeting was scheduled for mid-September.

“Then we will hear the government’s response to our demand which we are confident is justified. Our decision about the strike will depend on the government’s response,” he said.

Most teachers, who like transport and health workers are paid by the public sector, currently earn slightly above Croatia’s average monthly wage of around 6,400 kuna ($960). The hike would add at between 400 and 600 kuna to monthly pay.

“It is about time for the government to act in line with its rhetoric of seeing education as a top priority in society,” Union of Croatian Teachers leader Sanja Sprem said during the protest.

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric reiterated on Thursday what he has said in the past, that he supports higher public sector salaries but only in line with what the budget can afford.

The new school year begins on Sept. 9, the same day that public transport unions have scheduled a strike unless the government accepts their demand for higher pay and better protection at work.

Their talks with the government have not yet been completed.

On Friday the government will also continue talks with unions representing doctors and nurses, who are seeking salary increases of at least 10% and have threatened to strike in coming weeks if that demand is not met.

Croatia has run a slight budget surplus in the past two years but the government has forecast a fiscal deficit this year of 0.3% of gross domestic product. Croatia wants to return to a budget surplus in coming years as part of efforts to join the euro zone by 2024.

Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Frances Kerry

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